JOINT BASE ANACOSTIA-BOLLING, Washington DC –
Everyone in the Department of Defense should be familiar with the acronym SAPR. To some, it brings to mind the annual, mandatory training every civilian employee and military member has to attend.
While SAPR, or the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response program office hosts training sessions throughout the year as part of their sexual assault prevention strategy, their mission is so much more than that.
The military SAPR program dates back to 2005, when under the direction of the Joint Task Force for SAPR, the military services established sexual assault program offices at all major DoD installations.
“The impact of sexual violence is far reaching,” said Amy Nowak, the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator for Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling in Washington, D.C. “Sexual violence impacts everyone, not just women but men and children, and not just the survivor but parents, friends, children, spouses, partners and coworkers.”
Under each SARC, the SAPR program trains Volunteer Victim Advocates who help maintain a 24-hour phone hotline and stand ready to support victims. They partner with other units on base to ensure that victims of sexual assault have the resources they need, physically, mentally and spiritually.
The SAPR program team connects victims to mental health resources within the military as well as civilian and veterans resource centers. Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFE) are also a vital resource for victims who are able to connect with the SAPR office within 7 days of the incident to collect evidence should the victim choose to pursue an official report.
The Catch a Serial Offender Program is a newer program for individuals who have made a restricted report to be able to confidentially provide information about an alleged offender and incident and elect to convert their report to an unrestricted report if a match is identified.
Each victim is assigned a dedicated Victim Advocate to not only connect them with resources, but to be with them during interviews and exams and to intercede on behalf of the victim in situations where the victim may become overwhelmed or not be familiar with their options. Everything the Victim Advocate does is centered on the desire to empower the victim.
Every April, the DoD observes Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM) by focusing on creating the appropriate culture to eliminate sexual assault and requiring a personal commitment from all service members.
“The origins of Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month can be traced back to the social movements of the 1970’s, specifically the civil rights and feminist movements,” said Nowak. “Despite these large social movements, the important dialogues they started and their influence on support resources and legislation, it was not until 2001, when the U.S. first nationally recognized April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) and even more recently that prevention was added to the title and we recognize April as Sexual Assault Awareness and Prevention Month (SAAPM).”
At JBAB, SAAPM events have included a virtual fun run, a calendar of daily reflections, and a proclamation signed by JBAB and 11th Wing leadership, which has travelled across the base so passersby could add their signatures to demonstrate their support.
While SAAPM is recognized in April, the SAPR program’s awareness and prevention efforts are a year-round endeavor. Nowak emphasized that normalizing discussions of sexual assault and prevention is a vital step in increasing reporting and decreasing incidents.
“The number of reports each year is much smaller than the estimated number of incidents,” said Nowak. “60% of women and 80% of men who have experienced sexual assault will never tell another person. With this in mind, it is often a sign of increased education and awareness in a community when the number of reports increase in a given year because it means that more people feel comfortable coming forward with their experiences.”
Although annual training is required, Nowak believes it is beneficial for leaders to make time to bring SAPR program team members in more frequently throughout the year for ongoing training. By doing so, groups may have more focused discussions on topics like the neurobiology of trauma and create more tailored approaches to wingmanship within that specific community.
“The training provided by the military emphasizes bystander intervention, which is incredibly important,” said Nowak. “But not always an opportunity that presents itself.”
She suggests asking yourself these questions as an additional way to help prevent sexual assault and violence in everyday life.